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S.C. Arts Commission Cultural Districts Program
What is a cultural district?
A cultural district is a geographic area that has a concentration of cultural facilities, activities and assets. It is a walkable area that is easily identifiable to visitors and residents and serves as a center of cultural, artistic and economic activity. A cultural district may contain galleries, live performance venues, theaters, artist studios, museums, arts centers, arts schools, and public art pieces. A cultural district may also contain businesses like restaurants, banks or parks whose primary purpose is not arts, but that regularly make their spaces available to artists or create opportunities for the public to encounter the arts.
Legislation ratified by the South Carolina General Assembly and signed by Governor Nikki Haley authorizes the S.C. Arts Commission to grant official state designation to cultural districts in the Palmetto State. The legislation specifies the goals of this program:
- attract artists, creative entrepreneurs and cultural enterprises to communities
- encourage economic development
- foster local cultural development
- provide a focal point for celebrating and strengthening local cultural identity
Additionally, cultural districts:
- attract tourists
- help preserve and reuse historic buildings
- enhance the image and visibility of a place
- foster a supportive environment for arts and culture
Who can apply?
The applicant must be a city or town in South Carolina. The application must be signed by the municipality’s chief elected official or appointed chief administrator. The city or town may designate a municipal department or community partner organization to serve as contact for the application and to manage the proposed district. Entities such as an arts council, Main Street program, chamber of commerce, empowerment zone, historic district, visitor’s bureau or other capable bodies may serve in this capacity.
- Governance structure
Prior to applying, the city or town must develop a cultural district steering committee composed of organizations and individuals that represent the interests of the district. At least one cultural organization located within the district and/or one organization representing artists must be included.
Other types of organizations may include nonprofits, private businesses, educational institutions, faith-based organizations, economic development groups, residential associations, merchant associations or other stakeholder groups. This group should provide a governance and accountability structure for the district.
This governing organization should engage in community-based planning activities that establish locally defined goals and outcomes for the district, identify resources for sustaining the district, and create measures for determining progress toward achieving the goals.
Any city or town applying for state designation of a cultural district must hold a public hearing with adequate notice regarding the proposed district and pass a resolution making a commitment to establish a state-designated cultural district.
There are no deadlines. Applications will be considered on an ongoing basis.
- Confirm eligibility – Review the program guidelines to understand the goals and requirements. Confirm that there is sufficient municipal and local interest and support to seek the designation. Contact your S.C. Arts Commission county coordinator to discuss the program, community readiness and any questions you may have.
- Site visit – Schedule a visit by S.C. Arts Commission staff to tour the proposed district and meet key stakeholders.
- Map the district – Create a map of the proposed district that identifies proposed boundaries, cultural facilities, public art and other cultural assets. Include a spreadsheet that lists each place by name and street address. The map can be created by your local government planning office, GIS department or by using online tools such as Google Maps.
- Submit your application – Mail the following items to the S.C. Arts Commission, Cultural Districts Program,
1026 Sumter Street, Suite 200, Columbia, SC 29201.
- Application for Organizations form (PDF)
(How To Use PDFs >>)
- A brief (no more than two pages) narrative describing the community in which the proposed district is located, existing key characteristics of the area, and the municipality’s vision and goals for the area that will be served by a designated cultural district
- A copy of the resolution adopted by your city or town council
- Map of proposed district with accompanying spreadsheet
- An action plan, resulting from input and support from key partners and stakeholders, describing desired outcomes, goals and strategies for management of the district
- Application for Organizations form (PDF)
- Review and recommendations – S.C. Arts Commission staff will review the application materials, seek more information if required, and make recommendations to the S.C. Arts Commission board. The Board of Commissioners will make all final decisions regarding state designation.
If designation is approved, S.C. Arts Commission staff will work with local contacts to arrange appropriate announcements, publicity and public events. If designation is not approved, staff will work with local contacts to address board concerns and determine the feasibility of reapplying.
To document and measure the impact of a cultural district on its community, a state-designated cultural district must provide an annual report to the S.C. Arts Commission which includes a narrative describing activities in the district during the previous year and reporting data that measures the impact and reflects the stated goals of the district.
Required data points:
- Visitors – track the number of visitors to the district
- Building occupancy – track changes in occupancy rates
Additional/optional data points:
- Tourism – track visitors from outside the city coming into the district
- Sales tax collections – track aggregate sales taxes generated in the district
- Employment – track jobs in the district
- Artists – track the number of artists living/working in the district
- Arts business – track the volume of sales, occupancy, taxes generated by arts-based businesses
Every five years, S.C. Arts Commission staff will evaluate the annual reports and action plans of designated cultural districts to assess the district’s impact and continued viability for state designation. Districts demonstrating substantial progress or success at accomplishing goals and outcomes, and that demonstrate a continued local commitment to management and promotion of the district, will be recertified for another five-year period.
To discuss the program and any questions you may have, please contact your S.C. Arts Commission county coordinator.